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Nellie Oleson of The Ingalls Family: “I was abused as a child and the character helped me vent all my anger”

Behind him you can see the beach. It could be Fort Lauderdale or Malibu, but it is a generic “beach”, a background that he stamped to face the camera from the living room: during the pandemic a Zoom marathon, without respite, a Nelliepalooza. We no longer see her sausage curls, her bows sticking out of the skull, or her petticoats. Her hair is very short, but an old grin instantly reminds us of a girl.

It could have ended up on a psychologist’s couch, amid laments of how his character ate the identity of his passport, but no. He preferred to accept his old puppet, get out of the hostage role, seal an internal alliance and go on tour with Nellie Oleson from end to end in the United States. Alison Arngrim is the woman who instead of murdering her perverse creature decided to embrace her for life and proudly hang the title of best television villain in history.

The enemy of Laura Ingalls, Walnut Grove Village Hyena, liar, manipulative, harassing, selfish, narcissistic without limits, she is now a 59-year-old woman, married for almost 30 years to Robert, a resident of Los Angeles, very kind, histrionic, able to apologize for arriving at the virtual date one minute late .

One of the best villains on TV, Nellie Oleson

“My back is destroyed,” he starts. “When the pandemic started, everything I was doing was canceled, my stand-up shows and so on. I was upset and my husband said, ‘You are going to think of something, it always occurs to you.’ So I started reading to my fans on Facebook and then I found out there was a thing called Stageit where you can do your comedy shows online. And so I turned my living room into a TV studio. I can do anything from my living room. ”

From 1974 to 1982 – almost the entire period that the fiction written and starring Michael Landon lasted – had the eyes of 140 countries on it. She had auditioned for the role of the Ingalls girls, but the producers sensed she was ideal for the antagonist.. They made him wear a very expensive wig and rehearse all sorts of evil things. She ended up hated by half the planet. On the street he took a step and received his own medicine: shoving, kicking and insults like “bitch”, which he capitalized for his biographical book: Confessions of a prairie dog. How I survived Nellie Oleson and learned to love being hated.

Nellie Oleson with Laura Ingalls in "The Ingalls Family."

Nellie Oleson with Laura Ingalls in “The Ingalls Family.”

After the NBC fiction ended, he decided on a vocational stop, until he returned to the ring in less popular projects. He says that most of the fans of Little House on the Prairie they’re from Argentina. And that you need “a sponsor” to take care of the air tickets and the stay to land for the first time in these latitudes. It counts and counts on speed and certifies what the international media says: that it is a champion in shooting more words per minute than the average mortal.

One night on the Larry King show on CNN, Arngrim pulled out the stone inside him. “I was abused from the age of six by someone in my family,” he launched. “They weren’t my parents,” he explained, sparing lurid details. “I did not know what the subject was doing because he did not know what sex was, and that is what usually happens with children, when they are abused very young they will not tell anyone because: What are they going to say? This person came and did what to me? That continued until he was 9 years old. When I was 20 I told my parents and they were astonished. “

Today and yesterday, actress Alison Arngrim

Today and yesterday, actress Alison Arngrim

-Were you happy being a child actress?

-It is difficult when you are a child or a teenager and you work in an adult world and have responsibilities. But mine was a very good experience. It was fun to yell and yell and get everything out. He was quite happy. We filmed The Ingalls family as if we were making a movie. For a chapter of one hour it would take us five or seven days. Sometimes we had to be outside on set at four in the morning. Or it was hot and we were in the field, in the sun, me with my wig and those clothes … There were days when I would faint. Now the Screen Actors Guild controls more and provides financial, educational, legal advice. Before it was very difficult. Now if a child is now on a set and feeling uncomfortable, they may be being abused and there is nowhere to turn. It is much better.

-Did you ever declare that you had suffered sexual abuse in your childhood …

-Yes, I was abused long before the series. When I was in the program the working group was very kind to me, they were very protective, I felt safe there. Years later, when I talked about it with several people in the cast, they told me: “If you had said it we would have gone directly to the police and we would have protected you.” The truth is that playing that character who was so angry and threw things was therapeutic. Because when you were abused and you can’t tell anyone, it’s all anger.

A scene from "The Ingalls Family, with actress Alison Arngrim and her fictional father, Richard Bull

A scene from “The Ingalls Family, with actress Alison Arngrim and her fictional father, Richard Bull

-Telling it publicly helped many people. How is your work in that cause today?

-Exactly, it helped. And that’s why I talked about it in my book, and I talked about it in Sacramento and in the state capitals and everywhere. A lot of people are going through the exact same thing and they don’t talk about it enough. I have served on the board of directors of the National Association for the Protection of Children.

-Do you keep friends with the actors of that emblematic cast?

-Of course. That’s what crazy. Most of us talk to each other. That never happens in Hollywood. In fact, I just spoke to Dean Butler (Almanzo, Laura Ingalls’ husband), and I was with him in December. And then I went to South Dakota, where the events of Little House on the Prairie They are huge and I sign autographs. And I am friends with Charlotte Stewart (Miss Beedle teacher) and spent a weekend with her. And he texts me with Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls). And the other night I must have talked for over an hour with Karen Grassle (Ingalls mother, Caroline).

The wicked and funny character, Nellie Oleson.

The wicked and funny character, Nellie Oleson.

-How was the process of accepting that you were going to be pigeonholed for life?

-When the program ended, many actors said, it was great, but that is over. And we didn’t realize that the show was going to have the effect, the impact. Melissa Gilbert says, “How many movies have I done? You always see Laura Ingalls in a hundred movies.” When I realized that Nellie was not going to disappear I thought, “well, okay, I’m going to use it to my advantage.” And I put together a one-man show. It works, because everyone has a Nellie at their school or work. Everyone has a Mrs. Oleson in their neighborhood.

-In 1986 actor Steve Tracy (husband in fiction) died of HIV and you began to work as a volunteer in that cause. How was that experience?

-I was traveling for years and years throughout the country. My husband at the time was in charge of the Southern California AIDS Hotline. And I continue and will continue to help. I know people think I have a lot of free time, but no. Today I got up, washed my clothes, I had to go to the post office to dispatch packages from the people who buy my hats and books, then I had my virtual book reading at one thirty …

The Ingalls business never stopped, fueled by the revival. The story born from the book of the writer Laura Ingalls Wilder includes today a tourist circuit and a remake project, and leads Alison to contrive to get her own slice of the phenomenon. The famous merchant owned by her fictional parents Harriet and Nells (Katherine MacGregor and Richard Bull, both dead) moved to the cloud. Arngrim’s biography can be had for $ 25, his kitchen aprons for 32, his “Minnesota” model hat for 25. There are also tin mugs and even a personalized video delivery service.

Last year she became one of the first actresses in the world to return to a movie set amid the pandemic. In Utah, with protocol and in a closed set he starred Even in Dreams, a Savannah Ostler film that has just been released and from which it came out “Covid-free.” As expected, they rehired her for a sinister character.

Forty years later.  Actress Alison Arngrim

Forty years later. Actress Alison Arngrim

Now, it lends itself to radio plays and is even part of a scientific study at the University of California: “They draw my blood, check my antibodies. We must not minimize the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which hurts the youngest.”

The scariest blonde tells that her look was a source of inspiration for many Drag Queen. And it went through a boom as an icon among LGTBI communities. Today he is proud to be part of events to claim rights. “The world is full of Nellie Oleson, so it will never go out of style.”

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